Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Chicago Beau: Rich Mix, London 17/2/23


LT ‘Chicago Beau’ Beauchamp has an unparalleled trajectory straddling blues, jazz and spoken word. He is known for his contributions to the seminal album "Certain Blacks" by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. but is primarily a blues musician and one of the last greats standing, judging by tonight’s performance.

This genre-hopping and most genial of performers is a sprightly 74-year-old with mobility problems but blessed with an agile and engaging mind allowing his charisma to effortlessly hold the intimate space of upstairs at the Rich Mix.

The opening track teased us with some free-form jazz bolstered by band leader Miles Danso whose rich, resounding double bass prowled throughout the evening and set the tone for some grounding and earthy blues. Likewise, drummer Cheryl Alleyne, channelled Sam Lay and Willie Smith with pure respect for the hallowed Chicago Shuffle beat that all blues aficionados love. So with a solid foundation Chicago Beau, who got his nickname from Muddy Waters, got on with it and did his thing... i.e. what the blues is and what it isn’t.

Chicago Beau is a dab hand on the harp and it complements his high-pitched vibrato singing voice. He mixed blues evergreens with originals and his "You Can’t Send Your Kids To School" is tough both lyrically and musically. His strong harp intro suited the tone of the intent, setting off a strong blueprint for his high-calibre U.K. musicians to add their measured magic. Guitarist, Maurice Brown, got the lion's share of soloing duties and his crunchy jazz blues really cut the mustard.

Beau is a big Little Walter fan and rose to the occasion with full-throttle tremolo in his voice on Big Bill Broonzy’s "Key To The Highway", which turned out to be a slow brooding highlight, adorned with Paul Weinreb’s simmering B3 outpourings and the horn section of Bucky Leo on sax and Trevor Edwards’ bone added funky edged watercolours. Another highlight was the harp and acapella number where you felt the man's tenure was firmly secure.

The Q&A was fascinating too... hearing many stories, most notably, about his times in Paris (the late '60s, early '70s) where black art and royalty were thriving with the likes of Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker living there.

Tonight’s event was arranged by Certain Blacks, an arts development organisation formed to support the growth of diverse artists. They must be tickled pink to have presented us with a tap-dancing son of a sharecropper (whose father was the first black man to attend the prestigious John Marshall law school in Chicago) and a gilt-edged, bona fide blues legend in our midst. This was a night to savour and behold someone special.

Words Emrys Baird

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